Gnassingbé Eyadéma

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Gnassingbé Eyadéma
President Gnassingbé Eyadéma of Republic of Togo, West Africa.jpg
Full Name: Gnassingbé Eyadéma
Alias: Étienne Eyadéma (birth name)
Origin: Pya, Togo
Occupation: President of Togo (1967 - 2005)
Goals: Maintain total control over Togo (successful until his death)
Crimes: Electoral fraud
Mass murder
Human rights violations
Authoritarianism
Unlawful mass detention
Censorship
Torture
Type of Villain: Dictator


We shall win only by working together.
~ Gnassingbé Eyadéma

Gnassingbé Eyadéma (born Étienne Eyadéma, 26 December 1935 – 5 February 2005) was the President of Togo from 1967 until his death in 2005. He participated in two successful military coups, in January 1963 and January 1967, and became President on 14 April 1967.

As President, he created a political party, the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), and headed an anti-communist single-party regime until the early 1990s, when reforms leading to multiparty elections began. Although his rule was seriously challenged by the events of the early 1990s, he ultimately consolidated power again and won multiparty presidential elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003; the opposition boycotted the 1993 election and denounced the 1998 and 2003 election results as fraudulent. At the time of his death, Eyadéma was the longest-serving ruler in Africa.

According to a 2018 study, "Gnassingbé Eyadema's rule rested on repression, patronage, and a bizarre personality cult."

Biography

Eyadéma joined the French army in 1953, served in Indochina, Dahomey, Niger, and Algeria (1953–61), and had attained the rank of sergeant when he returned to Togo in 1962. When President Sylvanus Olympio refused to take 626 Togolese veterans of French wars into Togo’s tiny army, a group of them, including Eyadéma, assassinated him in an otherwise almost bloodless military coup (January 1963) and installed a civilian, Nicolas Grunitzky, as president.

After an abortive coup by members of the Ewe people of southern Togo in November 1966, the army took over directly in January 1967 and in April made its chief of staff, Eyadéma, president and minister of national defense. He invited past political exiles to return, and in 1969 he set up a new unity party (the Togolese People’s Rally) and became its president. In the mid-1970s Eyadéma sought to strengthen the country’s nationalism by ordering the citizens of Togo to assume African first names, himself adopting the name Gnassingbé. He was elected to the presidency of Togo in one-party elections held in 1979 and 1985.

Eyadéma’s long rule brought a measure of stability to Togo, and his nationalization of the country’s phosphate industry in 1974 produced increased state revenues for development. The economic gains achieved in the 1970s were largely negated in the ’80s, however, by governmental mismanagement and corruption.

In the early 1990s, faced with growing unrest with his rule, Eyadéma legalized political parties, freed political prisoners, and agreed to a democratic constitution. He surrendered his power to a transitional government in 1991 while awaiting multiparty elections. Though he was easily reelected in 1993, there were allegations of electoral fraud, a charge that was repeated at subsequent elections.

He briefly sheltered Mobutu Sese Seko in Togo after he was overthrown during the First Congo War, but later insisted that he leave the country, causing Mobutu to go to Morocco.

In 1998 Eyadéma started what should have been, under the terms of the constitution, his final term as president. But in 2002 the constitution was amended to abolish term limits, and Eyadéma was reelected in 2003, again amid allegations of electoral fraud.

In early 2005 Eyadéma suffered a heart attack in his hometown of Pya, and, while seeking medical treatment, he died en route to France. His son, Faure Gnassingbé, succeeded him as president.